The Obit For Ralph McLeod

Ralph A. McLeod, ballplayer, longtime firefighter; at 90

By Tom Long, Globe Correspondent | May 2, 2007

Ralph A. McLeod lived every boy's dream.

"He was a soldier, a firefighter, and a professional baseball player and each job is something every boy dreams about," his daughter Beverly St. Pierre of Weymouth said yesterday.

Mr. McLeod, an outfielder with the Boston Bees, an infantryman during World War II, and a firefighter in Quincy for 32 years, died Friday in Colonial Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Weymouth. He was 90 and had recently suffered a stroke.

Mr. McLeod's baseball career was cut short by service in the Army during World War II. "You lose five seasons and you can't go back at the caliber when you left," he said in a story published in a 1996 issue of National Pastime, a publication of the Society for American Baseball Research.

Mr. McLeod was born in Quincy. His next-door neighbor was Fred Doe, a former big league pitcher. "He was a grumpy old guy," Mr. McLeod said in 1996. "I hardly ever spoke to him. If I ever hit the ball over in his yard, he yelled at me."

But he was watching.

After Mr. McLeod had a standout year at North Quincy High School, Doe arranged for him to get a professional baseball contract. Mr. McLeod began his career at McKeesport in the Penn State League. He remembered it as a tough league with many coal miners among its ranks. When the team played in Monessen, the ball field was next to a factory that belched smoke. Play was halted when smoke blotted out the sun.

He was called up to the big leagues to play for the Boston Bees in September 1938. The Bees later became the Boston Braves.

His first big league hit was a single off pitcher Paul Dean in the first game of a scheduled doubleheader on Sept. 21, the day the Hurricane of 1938 struck New England. "Part of the outfield fence blew down," he said in 1996. "They had to stop the game and make up new ground rules. Balls hit to center ended up foul."

No bonus baby, he was making $400 a month at the peak of his career. In the offseason he was a salesman at Gilchrist's department store.

He played in the big leagues for six games. In seven official at-bats he hit a single and a double for an average of .286.

He was drafted into the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but rarely talked about it. "He put things that were difficult behind him," said his daughter.

"I lost a lot of good friends," he said in 1996.

Mr. McLeod said he would always remember his first action. "It was cold . . . snowy," he said. "Come nighttime, you cut off a few fir branches and put them on top of the snow, get your roll out, get inside, put your shoes in there so they wouldn't freeze, and sleep away. It's an experience I wouldn't want to go through again."

Instead of returning to baseball, he joined the Quincy Fire Department and was a firefighter for 32 years until his retirement in 1980. He spent most of his career in the Wollaston Station near his home in Quincy.

"He loved the job," said his daughter, "but near the end of his career he was stationed in West Quincy. He didn't like that as much because they responded to many crashes on the Southeast Expressway."

He was married for 53 years to Barbara White, who died in 2001. "He taught me a lot about love in the way he cared for her at the end. She had Alzheimer's disease and he was devoted to her," his son, Robert A. of Eugene, Ore., said yesterday.

Mr. McLeod loved musicals, "Oklahoma" and "Les Miserables" in particular. But he didn't sing. "Only off-key," said his daughter. And he was a man who preferred not to curse. He said "cheese and crackers" when he was upset or exasperated.

He was a member of the Boston Braves Historical Society and enjoyed attending reunions of the teams. "He didn't like the limelight," said his daughter, "but he enjoyed the camaraderie."

And he never showed disappointment that the war cut short his baseball career.

"He was not a bitter man," said his daughter. "He just put that part of his life behind him."

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. McLeod leaves four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. today in Keohane Funeral Home in Quincy. Burial will be in Pine Hill Cemetery in Quincy.